restaurant

I almost want to hide the fact that the theme of this post is “Gluten Free”

Let’s not get into a big debate about gluten hype. You all know I adore the stuff. But my daughter, who I love more than bread, has recently become (thanks to a nasty virus), gluten intolerant. We are all hoping it is temporary, but in the meantime, life, and a delicious one, must go on.

My baking adaptations have been…uneven. I have determined that the best two “all-purpose” gluten-free flours are Bob’s Red Mill BLUE LABEL (the red label one is pretty icky), and Maison Canelle All-Purpose.

So far, I can say that both flours can be used exactly as my regular wheat AP, and things turn out ok. Anything cakey is perfect the first day, but gets gritty if it sits around. Cookies are fine.

This week I have decided to make Gluten Free Hamentashen, Challah, and Sticky Toffee Cake. The cookies and cake are regular recipes, and the “Challah” is one specifically for Gluten Free flours.

I am intrigued to see how restaurants adapt to this food restriction. Whether it is to beat wheat bellies, or to accommodate true allergies and intolerances, many restaurants and bakeries are offering “glutard” options (no, it isn’t politically correct, but come on, it is kinda funny).  A few weekends ago in NYC, we noticed Les Halles offers a gluten-free (I will just use GF, ok?) menu. Great – we sat down, and looked at the breakfast selections. Eggs and toast. French toast. Um, server, are we missing something? “You can have a fruit cup”. NEXT…

Friedman’s Lunch (one in Chelsea Market and one on W. 31st.) does it right. Can you say chicken and waffles? Pancakes? GF reuben sandwich (yes, the toast did crumble).

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Want something a little less sinful? Bistango offers a full selection of Italian-esque GF deliciousness. Meatballs without breadcrumbs, great GF pastas, and yes, desserts. All choices were seriously good, on their own merits, and not just because they had GF options.

Perfect GF pasta

Perfect GF pasta

If budget is not a concern (to put it mildly) , 11 Madison Park (3 Michelin stars) makes GF adaptations of everything they serve.

One of these things is NOT like the other...

One of these things is NOT like the other…

my baking report: the hamentashen were ok, but not easy to fold. Nice thought, not worth redoing. Or taking a photo!

The sticky pudding cake recipe is a winner – gluten free or not. Here is the original recipe from Bonnie Stern:

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING WITH BUTTERSCOTCH SAUCE

3/4 lb pitted dates (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3  eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (regular or gluten-free)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Butterscotch sauce:

3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed

The recipe mentions serving it with additional whipped cream, but I never do!

Butter a 9″ springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper, or bake individual cakes in 12 muffin pans

  1. Combine dates and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add baking soda and let rest 5 minutes. Puree. Let it cool.
  2. Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Beat in eggs one at a time. Whisk flour with baking powder and salt. Gently fold into batter alternately with dates, starting and ending with the flour. Transfer to prepared pan.
  3. Bake in a preheated 350F/180C oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. (Muffin sized ones usually take about 25 -30 minutes.)
  4. Meanwhile, while cake is in the oven, make the sauce by combining sugar, cream and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer gently 5 minutes until slightly thickened.
  5. When the cake comes out of the oven, let it cool for a few minutes, then prick holes and drizzle half the sauce over the top
  6. When serving,  drizzle with remaining butterscotch sauce and if you want to, some whipped cream.

 

Makes 10 to 12 servings

and now…..

GLUTEN-FREE CHALLAH

The following recipe is courtesy of www.glutenfreegirls.blogspot.ca so thank you.

The Challah is worth tweaking – next time I will replace some of the sugar and water with honey, just so it tastes a bit more like my “standard”.  That said, it is probably the tastiest “white bread” I have eaten in a long time. It is delicious toasted, and incredibly, it is NOT crumbly!

seriously rising

seriously rising

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2 cups rice flour (I used almost half and half brown and white rice flours)

1 3/4 cups tapioca flour

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons sugar

3 teaspoons xanthan gum

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup lukewarm water

1 cup lukewarm water

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

4 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

4 eggs

sesame seeds, poppy seeds or my favourite, pearl sugar (optional)

 

  1. In mixer, combine the flours, 1/4 c sugar, xantham gum, and salt.
  2. Dissolve the 2 tsp sugar in the 2/3 cup of water and mix in the yeast. In a separate bowl combine the butter with the additional 1 cup water and vinegar.
  3. With mixer on low speed, blend the dry ingredients. Slowly add the butter/water mixture. Blend in the eggs, 1 at a time. The dough should feel slightly warm. Pour the yeast mixture into the ingredients in the bowl and beat at the highest speed for 2 minutes.
  4. Place the bowl in a warm spot, cover with greased plastic wrap and a towel, and let rise approximately 1 hour.
  5. Return the dough to the mixer and beat on high for 3 minutes. Spoon the dough into a greased, floured loaf pan. Fill 2/3 full, you may bake the remainder in greased muffin tins, etc. (or make all rolls~about 18). Sprinkle tops with sesame seeds. Let the dough rise until it is slightly above the tops of the pans, about 45-60 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400 F and bake the large loaf for approximately 1 hour. Bake the rolls 25 minutes.

Personally, I think the bigger loaves taste much better, but try it out and see!

 

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Unexpected Florence preview

My summer adventure was planned to coincide with my daughter’s dance performance…in Florence.  But things don’t always go as planned, and so, when I got a call from her teacher that she was really sick, I dropped everything and hopped a plane to take care of her.  Fast forward – 1 hospital visit, 2 more doctor’s visits, and she is…ok.  I am in Florence for a few more days, and so thought I would let you in on my impressions.

I “get” this city, finally. My first trip years ago to Florence was admittedly (and in retrospect) not that great. I’m not sure what happened. Either I missed the good stuff or this city has changed.  I’m going to split the difference here. Of course I loved the obvious places and sights last time – the Uffuzi is worth at least a week, the Duomo is a “must see”, David is another… But this time, THAT stuff isn’t what defines this city. It is imperfect and thus “perfect”. There are too many tourists (pot calling the kettle black, I know, but hey…). Too many vendors hawking crap none of us need. The designation of the car-reduced historical centre is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it makes the streets walkable. On the other, if you actually need to come and go, city buses are less than convenient… But back to my love affair. I think one of my gaffes last time was visiting the Duomo and then retreating from the tourist-packed streets in the area. This time, I am staying right in the thick of things at the Roomate Isabella, a very decent boutique hotel, fittingly above a boutique (that just happens to be Gucci). Nice rooms, decent (new but kinda ugly) bathrooms, very good breakfast and friendly (yes folks, I said that) staff. It is Italy, so I wasn’t really surprised that one of the guys working the front desk sent me off in the wrong direction, but I digress. As I lie in bed this morning writing, there is a street busker playing violin outside my window. So far, I’m impressed with both his ability and repertoire. Last night I listened to a trio playing the standard hits- Ave Maria, Vivaldi’s top 10….But it all worked! The Duomo has always been the heart of the city. I just figured out that in some ways, it still IS.

The Mercato Centrale deserves it’s own post. It might be reason  enough to want to pick up and move here.  The main floor is everything one would expect. Open until 2 pm, it is chock full of …

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Everything you want to buy at a market, plus a bar or two, some tripe stands…

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panini di lampredotto. Ignore the texture and fact that it is tripe. It is delicious, especially with pesto and hot sauce

… But wait, there’s more! I wandered upstairs to another world. Sleek stands line the periphery. Wine store? Check. Organic vendor who prepares fabulous plates? Yup. Want fresh pasta with whatever ? 6 minutes. Pizza that even I get excited about? Uh huh. Need a cookbook? Gotcha. Pull up a stool and join the rest of the city at a long table. This is the place to be. And yes, they show World Cup soccer matches when Italy plays.

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So far my dining choices have been limited by a kid who can barely eat anything (torture!). We managed to eat at the well-reviewed Trattoria Mariani, which was an enigma. Crowd is 50/50 local/tourist, which seems likely as good as it gets mid June. The menu isn’t particularly appealing. Specials seem to be standards, but are listed in Italian only. So bone up on your menu vocab. The locals order riboletta, so we followed and did the same. A bowl of brown mush appeared. Not pleasant to look at, but man it smells good. Tastes better. You can’t really call their version “soup”. The bread has soaked up the liquid. Who cares? Why not eat soup with a fork? Tagliatelle with porcini was delicious. The huge chunks of mushrooms were silky and just plain yummy. Needing some protein, Ms. Stomach-flu opted for the roast beef. It was… Covered in beige gravy, but cooked perfectly and very tasty. Would I return? Not likely, but it was a good meal. Just not re-do worthy.

I find it incredible that Italians simply DO NOT DO takeout. Again, because my patient sidelined dinner plans, I had to figure something out. There is one restaurant in the Duomo area that does let you take food home. When I finally found Restaurant La Strada (people know it existed, but weren’t sure of the name… Turns out to be the name of the street it is on!) I asked somewhat meekly if I could take something to go. The guy told me to go out, hang a right at the corner, and the door would be there for “that”. Really, I felt like I was doing something illegal. Door found, there was a small counter selling roast chickens and salads. There was a small menu on the wall. My request of “pasta bianca” (pasta with olive oil) was met with a scowl until I explained that my daughter wasn’t feeling well. That changed everything. Typical Italian style, the order was sent home with wishes for her speedy recovery.

It looks like my patient is improving. She has headed back to her fellow dancers.  And now for the yummy stuff….

I don’t eat alone in restaurants often. On some level I think it is both necessary to prove something to myself AND almost, weirdly fun ONCE in a blue moon. It is also the only option this week!   I am not talking about grabbing a bite on the go. I’m talking about walking into a great looking restaurant and requesting a table for one.

It is rare that a busy restaurant seems totally nonplussed. Such is the case at Obika, on the very swanky Via de’ Tornabuoni.

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Overhearing the conversation next to me, just don’t pull a “Can I have that without the blank but with blank?”  The poor waiter looks like he is ready to burst… Really, unless you are going to die from an anaphalactic allergic reaction, my advice to you in this country is to perhaps just order something else.

I am seated at a round community table with a view of of the other diners and a lovely terrace. Cool. Good selection of wines by the glass. Great. Serious mozzarella selection.

The pizzas (not “my thing”)  look SO good. I will have to bring more bodies next visit and sample them. In the meantime, my plate of fresh mozzarella and grilled artichokes beckon.

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Mmm. That is exactly what it should be!  Absolutely simple. And perfect. I even figured out Italian bread, Which has always seemed… kinda sad. The good stuff is just basic no-knead bread. No bells or whistles. Just flour and water and yeast and a pinch of salt. When done well, it works. Especially doused in good olive oil. I am a satisfied loner tonight. I really miss my usual company but am pleased that I not only had a delicious dinner, but got through it entirely in Italiano!

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Montreal Winter-Melting (Pot) Moments

Visitors often comment on Montreal’s neighbourhoods. Each one has a different feel.  Some parts of town feel European, others like they could be anywhere. Montreal neighbourhoods are always changing. Areas popular with immigrants transition as groups establish themselves. Blocks that used to be run down slowly morph into cool and hip.

Two recent restaurant meals tell the story better than I can.

H4C, a restaurant in that very zip code is in the heart of Little Burgundy, an area long known as poor, tough, and undesirable. It is now seen as an up and coming, if not even maybe “here and now” young neighbourhood, minutes away from downtown, close to the Lachine Canal and the Atwater Market. The Joe Beef gang began the restaurant gentrification several years ago, and now the wave is continuing west, with solid names like Tuck Shop, Rustique Pie Kitchen, Satay Brothers and thankfully, H4C.

The restaurant’s website told me I would be in for something special. How many restaurants have an “Architecture” tab on their site?  The space is beautiful. An old post office was converted into a perfect dining room. It is open, but not too open. Airy without being cold or severe. Lighting is perfect, which is rare. Service is knowledgeable and reservedly friendly, which seemed to suit the space.  Diners can peek into the super-equipped kitchen, while noise and cooking smells are kept out of the dining room itself. Now, onto the food!

Every plate was beautiful. Every morsel was delicious. While menu descriptions sounded simple, execution proved the level of detail was anything but.

Carmelized liver mousse, huckleberry, pickled onions, toast

Caramelized liver mousse, huckleberry, pickled onions, toast

Braised veal cheek, salsify, black trumpets, brussel sprouts, black garlic

Braised veal cheek, salsify, black trumpets, brussel sprouts, black garlic

One of the deserts we devoured won the Montreal Gazette’s dish of the year (click link for the complete article and a video). “Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oatmeal, maple” was a triumph.

Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oat, maple

Apple, cheddar, buckwheat, oat, maple

Lesley Chesterman, a critic not afraid to call it like she sees it wrote:

“This unique dessert at H4C was just beyond the beyond. The mix included an apple sorbet, an apple brunoise, apple jelly, muesli and a large quenelle of buckwheat ice cream. The way that gorgeous ice cream played off the muesli was brilliant, but the inspired addition of a slice of cheddar cheese in the middle of it all took this dish to another level. It was not only the dish of the night, but one of the best desserts I’ve ever sampled: the perfect example of technique meets innovation meets deliciousness. Bravo!”

A few weeks later we finally made it to Impasto in Little Italy. Stefano Faita, a local foodie celebrity, and Michel Forgione, a well respected local chef opened this corner restaurant last summer. Did I mention it is based on “local”? The restaurant is across the street from Stefano’s family’s “hardware” store (specializing in kitchen ware and hunting equipment!) and Stefano’s cooking school. It is a few blocks from the all-important Jean-Talon market. Décor is simple, and perfect, in a much different way. The exterior blends in seamlessly with the block. No “look at me” here! The interior says “Italia”, from the terrazzo floor to the sleek walnut paneled walls to the marble tabletops.  The vibe matches the style of cooking. It is friendly, comfortable and Italian. While I understand this restaurant is all about the pastas, I have to say they were fine, but not the standouts of our meal. The charcuterie was exceptional, and (some of you readers may shudder), the porchetta was the best I have ever even IMAGINED eating. The fact that desserts were delicious actually came as a surprise – I am usually disappointed at Italian restaurants in Montreal. The tiramisu was not too sweet or too airy, and the chocolate-hazelnut cake was so good I am still craving another piece.

Reflecting on this blog and thinking how lucky I am to live in a city this diverse and foodie-friendly, I popped into Cheskie’s bakery on Bernard Street. That was the clincher, and I found myself chuckling. There was an orthodox Jewish man buying bread and some cookies. A young religious girl was buying an assortment of pastries, including the requisite sponge cake. Next, a hipster French-Canadian girl ordered chocolate croissants. Two very large Black guys were next. In French, they ordered sandwiches. One of the guys knew no meat was served. He was about to order a tuna sandwich when he spotted something and asked what it was. When told it was lox spread, his face lit up, and he said “one of those, and one for my friend”. I knew I was in Montreal, and left the bakery with the best babka in town and a smile.